The gratitude of absence

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how the things we should be most grateful for are often defined by their absence. Do you know what I mean?

The absence of pain means you’re not sick.
The absence of heartache means you’re not sad.
The absence of exhaustion means you’re well rested.
The absence of despair means things are going well.

The trouble, of course, is that you don’t notice these absences until they go away, do you? We’re not walking around every day thinking how lovely it is that we’re not in pain and that we’re feeling well and our families and lives are intact. It’s only once they break that we notice how lovely they were.

I’ve been thinking about this largely because a dear friend was telling me about someone she knows who had a series of unbelievably bad events happen to her, all in a row. And then asked how I was, and I wanted to default to ‘exhausted and stretched too thin’. But I realised, in that moment, that I should be walking around suffused with gratitude because of the abundance of daily gifts I take for granted: my healthy family, my own health, my lovely home, the good food I eat, the absence of anything life-shattering.

I think it’s impossible to do this, unfortunately. But I suppose the flipside is to focus on all the daily wonders: all the sweet little moments and occasions for happiness – the slices of joy! – in our everydays. Because it’s easy to get sucked into the too busy, too tired whirlpool and not lift our heads and look out at how lucky we are.

This week I’m going to try my very best to be grateful for the absences, and joyful in the presence.

PS: The reason I’ve been thinking so much about gratitude lately, I think, is that I am so doggone tired all. the. time. And Ella is the sweetest little 8 month old and Arty is alternately the coolest little guy I know and a holy terror (almost 3 years old: par for the course). But there’s this sense of wanting to hold on to the sweetness while at the same time just longing for bed and sleep and oblivion. I think in times of better rest and more personal space, gratitude is less of a theme because it comes more naturally – it’s not a constant battle between wanting to be right here right now, and wanting to be curled up alone in my bed.

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